What is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease of dogs and other mammals that primarily affects the liver and kidneys. It is caused by the bacteria Leptospira.
Bacteria are passed in the urine of infected animals and can survive in the environment for long periods of time in moist soil or stagnant water. Wild animals including skunks, raccoons, opossums, rats, wolves, and deer, can all spread the infection. Leptospirosis is very rare in cats and is not generally associated with disease.
What happens once a dog is infected?
Dogs become infected through contact with urine from an infected animal, in the soil or in water – Leptospira can penetrate the soft lining of the nose, mouth, and eyelids, and can also enter the body through sores or scratches on the skin.
Once a dog has come in contact with Leptospirosis, the incubation period (time from infection to onset of clinical signs) is usually 4 to 12 days. Infected dogs will show a variety of symptoms, including lethargy, depression, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, increased thirst, and increased urination. Some may develop jaundice (yellowing of the gums and the whites of the eyes). Some dogs show only mild symptoms and will recover, but infection can be life threatening.
Clinical leptospirosis causes damage to the liver and/or the kidneys, and can be fatal.
Note: Leptospirosis can be transmitted to people – owners of infected dogs should avoid contact with the dog’s urine, and wear gloves when cleaning any areas the dog has soiled. The organism is readily killed by household disinfectants or a dilute bleach solution
How common is Leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis has been found in southern Ontario, and cases are increasing, with numerous cases in dogs in the GTA this year.
Can Leptospirosis be treated?
Treatment generally involves antibiotics and often hospitalization. Treatment can be effective if the disease is diagnosed early, but the prognosis is guarded for severely infected dogs. There are also potential long-term consequences of infection even if treatment is successful, such as chronic kidney disease.
Can Leptospirosis be prevented?
Yes – there is a vaccine available that protects against many (although not all) the strains of Leptospirosis. The vaccine is not considered a core vaccine, however at this time we are recommending the Leptospirosis vaccine to all our canine patients.